Friday, September 26, 2014

As Long As We’re Testing…

Could a little ’straight talk’ cut through the “fog of war?”

The ongoing battle between our public schools and alleged “corporate reform,” one-sided since passage of NCLB, has now begun to morph into a new and more strident phase.  Most of our states, slavishly following the NCLB and NGA reform party lines — and frequently with little or no intellectually competent state inspection of tactics before legislative imposition — have imposed standardized test and VAM regimes on our roughly 14K public school systems.  That was followed, courtesy of ALEC lobbying and Bill Gates’ intrusive dollars, by railroaded near mass installation of CCSSI's alleged “Common Core.”  

Bipartisan, all of the above may have been fully warranted in principle, by virtue of the adamant refusal, for at least three decades, of most of our entrenched and frequently self-righteous public school systems and their leaderships to accept accountability, and proactively reform their own learning systems.  Given that, the resultant reform mantra being installed in defiance of common sense as well as contemporary knowledge about learning, and driven in part by political ideology, is strangling contemporary public K-12 learning and hurting children.  

Strategically, it may have a greater chance of actually damaging our nation than ISIS; but it is being prosecuted with vigor by a White House and US Department of Education riddled with both ignorance, or hypocrisy, or both, and in bizarre coincidence, also by right wing extremism.  Throw in the demagoguery of retro public education zealots still trying to install last century's school of education methods gibberish that has been repetitively disproven, and you have a full complement for a messy social battle.

Too many of America’s public system leaders, that genre also streaked with ignorance and poorly vetted human resources, have simply been sycophant to state legislative enclaves that wouldn’t recognize an education, because as one critic put it, “they’ve never seen one."  But increasingly the good core of America’s public teaching army is stepping out of the foxhole and biting back.  Two recent examples, are here and here.  More substantively for public education as a whole, a movement to reform the alleged reforms is stepping up and fighting back, linked here and here and here.  And at last survey, up to 60 percent of Americans now reject the NGA/CCSSI “Core” concept.

The scary parts of the above scenarios suggest that there may be no truce, or overwhelming force on either side, to stop the war:  Schools under local control can bob and weave, if they have the grit ignoring either state or Federal dominance because their funding (ironically expedited by right wing funding credo) is increasingly disproportionately local; Federal standards for upgrading our public systems are in large measure ruled out by the Constitution; state education bureaucracies have too long let political fealty rather than professional competence determine their values and operations; some undetermined fraction of local BOE is somewhere between ill-equipped for oversight and corrupted; and a once credible US Department of Education, once supported by intellectual and research components, has seen its credibility to jawbone school policies critically wounded by Duncan’s tenure.  

Lastly, an uncontrolled “billionaire boys club,” exhibiting plutomania, has been permitted to buy and impose public education mantras and tactics that suit their egos and personal beliefs, a distorted and ugly consequence for a nation/public that actually thought it democratically owned its children’s schools.

Tolls of war

A consequence of the above upward spiraling struggle for control of learning is that the rhetoric starts to turn both ugly and into distortion of truth. Propaganda replaces attempts to find balance and room for bargaining resolution.  Self-righteousness and dogmatism replace reasoned argument on either side.  

An example of the above issued recently, a vicious personal attack on Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and is described by a story in this week’s The Washington Post, linked here.

The Edunationredux blog has been critical from its day one of some strategies and tactics of our teachers’ unions, both the AFT and the NEA. However, that critique has to be referenced against the inherent consequences of being a source of collective bargaining.  Conceptually, any labor union is by definition a source of countervailing power to institutional or organization management; that is its nature.  Its mandate is representation of its members, a complex dance between protecting those rights against repression or intimidation and securing benefits and job security, while operating in the larger social and civic interest.  The expectation is of loyal opposition ranging to controlled conflict, not two idealistic partners tripping down the "yellow brick road" with happy faces, holding hands.  Any other expectation is total naiveté.

The attack on Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, by a known provocateur, formulaic with carefully disguised sources of heavy funding, is wrong.  The AFT under Weingarten has increasingly moved to more moderate positions in the ongoing public school skirmishes.  What characterizes the present attacks is total disregard for balance or truth.

Expect the next stages of the public school reform firefights to increasingly take on this same pattern of contentiousness.  The stomach for the fight is a matter of personal values, but the capacity to differentiate truth from fiction is central to inching toward some better place in US public K-12 reform.

True or false?

The game is apparently testing, so testing it is.  If you have the courage to confront your own beliefs, or prejudices, take this T/F test.  Below are 30 statements about factors or issues surrounding our present school reform movement and its players.  Keep track of your answers, true or false.  At the end of the exercise there is a link to the presumed most correct answers.

Statements, note either T or F:
  • The best definition of learning is the memorization of dates, facts, formulas, etc., drilled until they become part of permanent memory and can be retrieved on demand.
  • Charter schools represent freedom of choice and education upgrades, while our public schools have become too socialistic in their values and styles of education.
  • The best way to improve teachers’ performances is with monetary incentives tied to test score performances of that teacher's classroom.
  • Value-added assessment of teachers -- looking at period-to-period changes in test scores -- is a valid way to assess performance even if a teacher might not teach a grade or subject matter tested, because it reflects the school's overall quality.
  • Charter schools are intrinsically less prone to non-educational influences and the most altruistic because they aren't linked to state governments, or quests for levies, or to other topside groups.
  • NCLB's standardized tests are valid and reliable because they are constructed by university schools of education and master K-12 teachers, and scored by educators.
  • Two national icons, Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates, have demonstrated the most nuanced and philosophically diverse understanding of US public K-12 education, and its need for self-determination using, respectively, their megaphone and wealth to improve America's schools.
  • The best performing K-12 schools in the US are now private sector-sponsored K-12 charters; the worst, historically independent private and religious K-12 schools.
  • The very best way to develop learning in K-12 classrooms is to script common curricula, script lesson plans, and script the way a classroom is managed to assure quality learning and reliability of the lessons created there.
  • Our university schools of education are now recruiting into their degree programs applicants with the highest ACT/SAT scores and prior achievement to become America's teachers.
  • NCLB (supplemented by RttT) was the noblest piece of educational legislation written in the first part of this century, with practical and realistic goals for rising above student learning discrimination, and offering nuanced processes for improving K-12 classroom education.
  • The myth that some American corporations are massively profiting from proliferating standardized testing is just that, merely sour grapes from entrenched public education defenders and advocates.
  • A sure-fire way to improve our classrooms is to weed out the bottom ten percent of all teachers each year for the next ten years; put a stake in the ground for evidence-based accountability and quality control not unlike the goals the US private sector uses.
  • America's public schools have been in the forefront of efforts to introduce and integrate digital technology and online learning into our K-12 classrooms.
  • Public K-12 schools have some of the best managerial talent in the US in their principals and superintendents, trained at the highest levels of organizational and managerial theory, equivalent to advanced management or public administration degrees.
  • America's elementary and secondary education gurus have spent decades working on alternative models for testing K-12 learning, and finally demonstrated via classroom experiments that present standardized bubble tests perform best in measuring K-12 learning.
  • The rumor that one of the agendas of present "corporate reform" is to undercut public K-12 education is just that, rumor, started and mistakenly promoted by some in our public sector to deflect calls for public K-12 accountability.
  • The configuration of our public K-12 schools was determined a century ago, heavily influenced by the Carnegie Foundation, with the goal of matching every child with a classroom experience that mirrored their individual attributes.
  • Standardized tests are the gold standard for assessing learning and teacher performance because they accurately, reliably, and equitably measure hard performance, evidence-based learning.
  • Public K-12 education's administrators must pass rigorous testing, professional board assessments, and show high performance internship experience before they are allowed to manage a school or system.
  • Proven over and over, the best method of creating K-12 learning is putting the teacher in the front of the classroom, with proper discipline and in full control of dialogue.
  • America's K-12 public schools and their leaderships have led other organizational forms and venues in flattening organizational designs, and including the classroom teacher in school strategies, operations planning, and assessment designs.
  • America's teachers' unions were formed originally with real purpose, but have become unnecessary and parasites feasting on schools' taxpayer dollars.
  • For their levels of education and responsibilities, public K-12 teachers are now compensated as professionals on a par with other comparable professions.
  • The USDOE Secretary Arne Duncan has been a champion of public K-12 education, recognizing and supporting those schools’ needs to creatively and entrepreneurially devise curricula and learning styles that fit their cultures.
  • The NGA/CCSSI "Common Core" was developed by a nationally and publicly sourced roster of K-12 and higher education resources, chaired by a nationally recognized education professor, then received school field testing and was internationally benchmarked before being rolled out.
  • US schools of education have risen to the reform need by changing their admission requirements, adding technology curricula, and challenging the reform hordes by developing better assessment methods than corporately-sourced standardized tests, but having to inventory them until present testing obsessions subside.
  • US local boards of education, by virtue of generally politically non-partisan election are well tested via that electoral process, and most states also employ mandated education and education law training before board elected can be sworn and seated.
  • "Teach for America" is really the model for future public school teachers, the way to get deeply classroom-trained teachers into all of our future schools, and especially the way to get a stable teaching capability into socioeconomically and culturally disadvantaged schools.
  • By their nature, with local accountability, and non-partisan compared to other politically-based local governmental units, our public schools rarely experience the top leadership failures some of those other functions experience; US public schools' top leadership -- superintendents -- by virtue of local BOE leader selection procedures, historical precedent, and rigorous BOE oversight, are almost always top of the heap.
For a quick scoring check, tally the number of true versus false answers you recorded.  

If you judged all 30 statements to be “False" or "Falsifiable," you are a winner, someone who digs behind the more traditional and frequently naive press versions of the current reform machinations.  But if you recorded a “True” on any of this list, you may need to put the other oar back in the water, get out more, or cultivate some Google time.  There is tongue-in-cheek in some of the statements, a few are tricky, and there is an educational subtext in the whole gig, but every item of the 30 has been challenged or refuted by legitimate research, or by properly informed critical assessment, or by empirical testing, or is orchestrated and frequently paid reform propaganda.

But the more important implication of this roster of propositions is that a frightening proportion of the list is considered true by our public, or is faked being true by alleged reformers, and forms the basis for much of present K-12 “corporate reform” information strategy.  The assumptions rooted in the above statements are also going unchallenged by many timorous or phlegmatic public education professionals who may ultimately be gored by them.  Too many of our public K-12 administrators, and even many teachers, are either deflecting response to reform attacks, or dissembling with parents and taxpayers who are depending on their judgment and courage to keep their schools viable.  

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Thank you for your interest.  


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